Archive for Mailbag
Only six questions for you this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime.
Paul asks: Dellin Betances: All-Star?
At this point in time, I say yes on merit and no on actually getting elected to the game. Among the 108 relievers who had thrown at least 20 innings going into yesterday’s game, Betances ranked first in strikeouts (51), second in strikeout rate (44.9%), and second in FIP (1.02). Wade Davis ranked second (40), first (44.9%), and first (0.94), respectively. Betances has legitimately been one of the five or ten best relievers in baseball this season and that makes him All-Star Game worthy in my opinion.
Non-closing relievers get elected to the All-Star Game every year — Brett Cecil and Jesse Crain went just last year, for example — but it’s usually only one or two (not including the final vote). Remember, Red Sox manager John Farrell is filling out the AL roster this year after the players have their vote, and the manager tends to take his own guys. Joe Torre did it all the time in the late-90s and early-2000s. Would the Red Sox manager take a Yankees middle reliever over one of his own guys like Junichi Tazawa or Koji Uehara? Probably not. Betances has been awesome and I think he belongs to be in the All-Star Game, but belonging there and getting there are two different things.
Matt asks: Can you see the Yankees letting David Robertson walking at the end of the year and giving Betances the closer job?
Yes, I could, but the problem is that they’d still have to replace Robertson. Sure, Betances takes his role as the closer, but the Yankees would still be letting an elite reliever walk. Robertson is replaced as closer, but who replaces Betances as the middle innings fireman? Maybe someone like Danny Burawa or Mark Montgomery or Jose Ramirez could step up and do the job, but until they get a chance, we don’t know how much they can really help.
The Yankees have done a very good job of fielding a quality bullpen on the relatively cheap over the years, and letting Robertson walk as a free agent and saving $10-12M a year to spend elsewhere makes sense. At the same time, Robertson just turned 29 and he hasn’t had any arm problems in his career. He’s a strikeout machine who has proven he can handle high leverage spots in New York. It’s tough to let that guy walk, isn’t it? If he’s demanding Jonathan Papelbon money, then yeah, maybe let him walk. But if they can get Robertson to come back on a three-year deal worth that $10-12M per year (Rafael Soriano money, basically), I think they should do it. This isn’t like letting Joba Chamberlain or Luis Ayala walk.
Travis asks: What about Raciel Iglesias? What are the scouting reports on him?
Iglesias, 24, defected from Cuba over the winter and is throwing a showcase for scouts in Haiti today, according to Joel Sherman. Sherman says teams view the right-hander as a bullpen arm who could help as soon as the second half of this year (he was a reliever in Cuba). Here’s some more from Ben Badler:
Major league scouts (and Baseball America) have been able to see Iglesias pitch in person outside of Cuba twice this year. At the World Baseball Classic in March, Iglesias pitched at 88-92 mph. When Cuba visited the U.S. in July for a five-game friendship series against the U.S. College national team, Iglesias looked more impressive, throwing 92-95 mph while varying the speed and shape of his sweepy 76-81 mph breaking ball to get swings and misses.
“I think he’s a guy that, as he gets bigger and stronger, could be in the mid-to-upper 90s,” said Team USA coach Jim Schlossnagle, who is also the coach at Texas Christian. “He’s lean, has a ridiculously loose arm and pounded the strike zone. I was glad they didn’t pitch him more. He was the guy where you’re like, ‘Let’s find a way to get a lead before they get to this guy.’”
Badler says Iglesias stands 5-foot-11 and 165 lbs., so he’s a skinny little guy. You can see that in the video above. I’ve also seen his name spelled Raciel, Raicel, and Rasiel, so we don’t even know how to properly spell the guy’s name at this point. There isn’t much information about him available. Sherman is well connected though, and if he hears that teams think Iglesias could help in the bullpen later this year, then it’s probably true. I assume the Yankees will do their due diligence — they can use another reliever, but that’s true for every team — but I haven’t heard anything specific about their level of interest. Same goes for every other team for that matter.
A different Mike asks: Should the Yanks see if they can nab Wandy Rodriguez? He was recently designated. I don’t know if I’d give him a major league deal but a minor one for certain.
Yeah, there’s no way I’d give Wandy a big league contract at this point, but there’s no harm in a minor league deal. The Pirates ate about $5.5M in salary by cutting him — yet they won’t call up Gregory Polanco because they’re worried about a similar amount of money three years into the future, but I digress — so no one will claim him off waivers and take on that money. Rodriguez will eventually be released and free to sign with anyone.
Before getting designated for assignment, the 35-year-old southpaw had a 6.75 ERA (7.32 FIP) in 26.2 innings. He also gave up ten homers (!) and has been dealing with on and off elbow problems the last two years. Wandy’s numbers against lefties haven’t been all that good either, so it’s not even like there is reason to think he could help as a situational reliever. There’s no harm in giving him a minor league deal just to see if something clicks, but I don’t see how an AL East team could stick this guy on their active roster right now.
Nik asks: Question about Extended Spring Training games. Just who exactly is left down in Tampa to play these games? We hear about rehabbing players going to ExST and playing and how that doesn’t count toward their return countdown. Are these like practice squad players?
Extended Spring Training is basically Spring Training for the two short season leagues. It’s similar to regular old Spring Training in that there are daily drills and games against other ExST teams. They travel to the other complexes in Florida and everything. The games are not official though, they’re basically scrimmages. From what I understand they are open to the public too, you can just walk in and watch.
The players in ExST are the guys under contract with the team who have not been assigned to one of the full season minor league affiliates. SS Thairo Estrada is in ExST right now. So are RHP Ty Hensley and OF Leonardo Molina, for example. ExST ends when the short season leagues start in late-June (so when Short Season Staten Island and the Gulf Coast League Yanks begin play) and the players who do not get assigned to a minor league affiliate at that time are released or hidden on the phantom disabled list somewhere. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a continuation of Spring Training, only with minor leaguers.
Ryan asks: After seeing what Babe Ruth’s paycheck was it has me curious. If Ruth were say a 28 year old free agent today, what type of deal do you think he would sign? Money and years.
Here is Ruth’s paycheck, if you miss it floating around the internet the other day (I did). He was paid $7,685.23 twice a month (MLB players are paid on the 15th and 30th during the season, so today’s payday), which works out to $104,709.93 in 2014 dollars according to the CPI Inflation Calculator. That puts his annual salary at $1.25M or so in 2014 dollars, which is nothing by MLB standards. Baseball salaries have increased at a rate greater than general inflation.
Ruth was 32 years old in 1927 (the date on the paycheck) and was still a marvelous hitter, hitting his career-high and then-record 60 homers that season. Here is what Ruth did through his age 28 season:
Bold means he led the AL, bold and italicized means he led all of MLB. Take a second to fully grasp how dominant a hitter Ruth was. Defense is irrelevant at that point. He could have sat in a lawn chair in the outfield and been the best player in the game, which he clearly was.
Anyway, Ruth had a 231 OPS+ in his first four years in pinstripes. Miguel Cabrera had a 177 OPS+ in the four years before signing his record extension this spring. (We can’t really compare raw homer totals given the difference in eras, but Ruth hitting 40+ in the 1920s is far superior to Miggy hitting 40+ these days. Ruth out-homered entire teams back in the day.) Cabrera’s deal was ten years and $292M total, the extension plus the two years left on his current contract. He wasn’t a free agent on the open market, so there no bidding war to drive up the price.
Having just completed his age 28 season, I think Ruth would wind up getting something like 12 years and $396M ($33M per year) these days. That’s nothing more than my guess, we’re in uncharted territory here. Ruth was far and away the best player in baseball and I think that would result in far and away the richest contract in sports history. Remember how Alex Rodriguez‘s contract with the Rangers shattered records (the second largest sports contract at the time was Kevin Garnett’s $126M deal)? I think that would happen again today if 28-year-old Ruth hit free agency in today’s market. It would be unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Got seven questions for you this week. Send us anything at anytime through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Jerry asks: Just read a quote where Joe Girardi said there is no guarantee CC Sabathia ever comes back, obviously this is an extreme response, but it got me wondering, how does a retirement due to medical issues work as far as the contract is concerned? Does he not retire and continue to collect his check? Negotiate a medical buyout then retire? Are these contracts insured?
Here’s the full quote for those who missed it (via Brendan Kuty): “I think there’s always that possibility a player may not make it back, but I feel pretty good about he’s had done so far and the steps that were taken, and you just kind of keep your fingers crossed.”
Anyway, players forfeit the remainder of their contracts if they retire. If Sabathia’s knee is bad enough that he can never pitch again, he’ll simply sit on the 60-day DL for the next few years and the Yankee will collect whatever insurance they’re entitled to based on their policy. I suppose a buyout is possible, but I can’t remember there ever being one in MLB.
I remember reading that many times teams won’t insure these super-large contracts because the premiums are often higher than the contract itself. The Yankees do have insurance on Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez though — that’s based on what we heard after Teixeira’s wrist and A-Rod‘s hip problems — so I’m guessing they have one on Sabathia too. The only player I can recall who retired and walked away from his contract due to injury is Gil Meche, who forfeited roughly $12M a few years ago. I would be stunned if Sabathia did that. It would be stupid. The Yankees knew the risks when they agreed to pay him all that money. He shouldn’t let them off the hook out of the kindness of his heart.
Mark asks: Is it fair to say that Peter O’Brien is now the team’s second or third best prospect behind Gary Sanchez? Does O’Brien’s meteoric rise on this list along with his versatility make him more valuable to the Yanks over the long-term and make it more likely they’ll trade Sanchez for some pitching help this summer?
I’m going to post my pre-draft top 30 prospects next Friday and right now I’m on the fence about whether O’Brien is even a top ten prospect in the organization. He’s a one-tool guy — granted, that one tool is power, and if you’re going to be a one-tool guy, power is the one to have — without a clearly defined position and some concerns about holes in his swing. If he does make the top ten, he’ll be in the back half for sure. O’Brien’s having a monster season, no doubt about it, but 40 strikeouts and three unintentional walks (!) is a red flag. How usable will that power be at the next level?
I don’t think O’Brien’s big year makes it any more or less likely the Yankees will trade Sanchez. Or John Ryan Murphy for that matter. If anything, it might make it more likely they trade O’Brien. They obviously don’t think he can catch — they wouldn’t have tried him at third base last year and in right field this year if they thought he could hack it behind the plate — but some other team might be willing to give him a shot as a catcher. The Yankees will probably trade a catcher for a pitcher this summer because they have a ton of catching depth, not because someone broke out and made someone else expendable.
J.R. asks: I know its early but can we get a scouting report on Kenta Maeda? Pitches, etc?
Maeda is the best pitcher in Japan now that Masahiro Tanaka is wearing pinstripes. There was some speculation he would be posted last offseason, but the Hiroshima Carp decided to keep him around for another year. Maeda is expected to be posted this coming offseason but he is not on par with Tanaka or Yu Darvish. It’ll be a little while before someone of that caliber comes along. Here’s a snippet of a Baseball America (subs. req’d) scouting report from last year:
Maeda doesn’t have a plus pitch, but he’s shown plus command at his best with the ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes, pitch to both sides of the plate and change hitters’ eye levels … Maeda’s size (6 feet, 161 pounds) doesn’t give him great fastball plane, but his fastball plays up because it has good sink and run and he commands it well. He throws a solid-average slider with short break, a low-70s curveball that he’ll use early in the count and an occasional changeup. Some scouts aren’t sold on Maeda’s stuff playing in the big leagues, but those who like him think he has No. 4 starter potential.
Righties Shohei Otani and Shintaro Fujinami are the early favorites to be the next elite pitching talents to come out of Japan, but they are only 19 and 20 years old, respectively. Long way to go before they’re MLB ready and made available via the posting process.
Mike asks: I get it that Pat Venditte doesn’t have great stuff, and his main point of interest is that he switch-pitches, but after seven years in the minors with a 2.31 ERA and 376/86 K/BB ratio, isn’t it at least worth just seeing if he can do it in AAA? Why not just release him if they believe in him that little?
This question was sent in right before Venditte was promoted to Triple-A Scranton. Teams still need players to fill out their minor league rosters and soak up the playing time left over by the actual prospects, which is why guys like Venditte continue to get jobs even though the team may not believe they’re a future big leaguer. No club has a prospect for every roster spot on every minor league affiliate. Organizational players are necessary and somewhat important. That said, Venditte has been nails against left-handers this year (.071/.188/.071 with a 43.8% strikeout rate). With Cesar Cabral and Fred Lewis both pitching poorly and getting demoted to Double-A Trenton recently, Venditte just might be next in line for a call-up if another lefty reliever is needed. Unlikely? Yeah, probably. It’s not completely far-fetched though.
Andrew asks: With Dellin Betances being amazing in his new bullpen role, why not approach him with an extension right now? He’s under team control for 6 years I believe, why not offer him 6 years, $10 million? It would give him a big payday now, but also give the Yanks cost certainty as he advances into a more high leverage role.
The Yankees do still have six years of control left over Betances and yes, he has been totally awesome this year. He’s also been completely unpredictable throughout his career and I think his flame out potential is lot higher than many either realize or want to admit. There’s not much of a difference between him and, say, Daniel Bard. Electric when on but a perpetual risk of falling apart at any moment.
David Robertson will earn approximately $11.2M during his six years of team control, so that six-year, $10M deal is in the ballpark. Relievers don’t make much during their years of team control unless they rack up saves, and right now Betances isn’t closing. Maybe he’ll close next year — don’t you just love him as a dominant fireman for the middle innings though? — which would change things. Six years and $10M is a relatively small amount, yet it comes with quite a bit of risk and wouldn’t be much of a bargain unless he takes over as closer at some point relatively soon. I’m not a fan of rushing into extensions with non-closing relievers. Their earning power is so relatively small that it’s not worth the risk, especially when they have fewer than one year in the show. Maybe after 2015?
Russell asks: After watching Gerrit Cole, I am wondering why he turned down the Yankees. Growing up a Yankees fan, being selected by them and turning them down? I do not understand why.
Cole simply decided to go to college, that’s all. Teams knew he would be a tough sign coming into the draft, but the Yankees rolled the dice anyway because they never get a chance to draft that kind of talent. They were prepared to offer him a far-above-slot $4M bonus, but Cole’s family is wealthy and money wasn’t a big factor, so he went to UCLA. That’s life. No player should base a decision like this on their fandom growing up.
Sandy asks: What minor league players must the Yankees protect or could lose to the Rule 5 Draft in December?
General rule of thumb is high school players drafted in 2010 and college players drafted in 2011 (or earlier) will be eligible for this winter’s Rule 5 Draft. International prospects are always tough to pin down because the exact dates they signed are often unknown. Based on that, the notables who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season are OF Tyler Austin, RHP Danny Burawa, SS Cito Culver, OF Ben Gamel, 2B Angelo Gumbs, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Branden Pinder, and OF Mason Williams.
Of those eight, I think only Austin, Montgomery, and Williams are locks to be added to the 40-man roster and protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Williams hasn’t hit a lick in two years, but the Yankees have a tendency to protect their one-time top prospects regardless of whether they would actually stick in MLB for a full season (coughJoseCamposcough). There’s a good chance Burawa and/or Montgomery will be called up at some point this season, so they’ll likely already be on the 40-man. Culver and Gumbs shouldn’t be protected and both Gamel and Pinder are on the fence at best. That’s what I think right now, but there are still six months before these decisions have to be made.
Got eight questions for you this week, some with long-ish answers and some with short answers. If you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
JoeyA asks: How much would TANAK get on the open market RIGHT NOW. My guess: more than 7/155.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure Masahiro Tanaka would fetch more than seven years and $155M right now. He’s legitimately pitching like an ace (2.17 ERA and 2.81 FIP) because he doesn’t walk anyone (1.09 BB/9 and 3.1 BB%) and he misses a ton of bats (10.24 K/9 and 29.5 K%). Tanaka’s been durable throughout his career, he’s adjusted to the different ball and five-day schedule just fine, and he’s only 25 years old. Plus he’s a stone cold killer on the mound. Absolutely nothing rattles him. He would be a seriously hot commodity on the open market now that he’s shown he can handle MLB.
Tanaka’s contract (not counting the release fee) is already the fourth largest pitching contract in baseball history. I don’t think he’d get Clayton Kershaw money (seven years, $215M) if he was a free agent right now, but Felix Hernandez (seven years, $175M) and Justin Verlander (seven years, $180M) money seems very doable. That said, none of those three were free agents, they all signed extensions. Tanaka would be able to create a bidding war, so maybe $200M isn’t out of the question. I think Max Scherzer’s headed for $200M this winter and he turns 30 in July. Wouldn’t you rather have Tanaka’s age 25-31 seasons over Scherzer’s age 30-36 seasons?
Stephen asks: CC Sabathia‘s xFIP is 3.14, good for 21st in the bigs. Since the purpose of xFIP is to normalize home run rates, do you see a large regression coming for the big guy? How is it possible for a guy with his peripherals to be this bad? Tanaka is actually leading the xFIP leaderboard, due to his bloated HR rate. Is it possible that he’s going to get even better as the season progresses?
I am absolutely not a fan of xFIP because it does normalize homer rates to the league average. Why are we doing that, exactly? We know pitchers give up homers at different rates so why would we expect them to regress back to the rest of the league? You’re better off comparing a pitcher’s homer rate to his recent performance.
For example, Sabathia has a 23.3% HR/FB rate this year, which is way higher than last season (13.0%) and the last three seasons (11.3% from 2011-13). At the same time, he’s given up some serious bombs this year — Hit Tracker says eight of Sabathia’s ten homers allowed were “no doubters” or had “plenty,” basically meaning they were crushed. One was “just enough” and barely got over the wall. The other was Wil Myers’ inside the park homer — and that indicates hitters are squaring him up well. The 23.3% HR/FB rate is insane (would be the highest in MLB history by a mile) and I would expect it come down some, but given the swings hitters are taking against him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a true talent 15-16% HR/FB guy now, especially in Yankee Stadium. The AL average is 9.4% this year and it feels like it would take a miracle for Sabathia to get his homer rate down that far at this point of his career. Long story short: I’m not an xFIP fan at all.
Spencer asks: I know it’s a tad premature, but how does the contract Yangervis Solarte has work? Does he become a free agent this year? Also, suppose he has the same slash line as he has now at the end of the season what would you sign him for?
This is the first time Solarte has been in the big leagues, so the Yankees still have his full six years of team control. Assuming he never goes back to the minors, he’ll earn something close to the league minimum from 2014-16, then go through arbitration from 2017-19. Solarte can not qualify for free agency until after the 2019 season at the earliest, when he will be 32 years old.
As for signing him long-term … I think it might be too early for that. Solarte’s been awesome, don’t get me wrong, but given his out of nowhere emergence from mediocre minor league journeyman to impact big leaguer, I think you need to see if he does it again next season before committing real money to him. If he’d agree to something like five years and $10M after the season (say $550k, $750k, $1.5M, $2.9M, $4.3M from 2015-19), then hell yeah, do it. He might jump at the guaranteed payday after toiling in the minors so long. At worst he’d be an expensive bench player four years down the line. The Yankees have a ton of money and can roll the dice by waiting a year to see if this is the real Solarte though.
Chris asks: Any thoughts at a run at Mike Moustakas? He’s off to an awful start and they are talking of sending him back to the minors.
I think the Yankees should call and ask, sure. Moustakas is off to a dreadful start (53 wRC+ going into last night’s game) and he simply can’t hit lefties, either this year (.198 wOBA) or throughout his relatively short big league career (.267 wOBA), so he’s basically a platoon player. He does have left-handed pop and he’s made himself into a strong defender at the hot corner, plus he is only 25 and it wasn’t that long ago that he was considered one of the ten best prospects in baseball. Maybe hitting coach Kevin Long can help him take him to the next level like he did Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson (and Solarte?).
The Royals are not the cellar-dwellers they once were, or at least they aren’t acting like that anymore. They’re trying to win right now, this year, before James Shields leaves as a free agent. I don’t think they’ll trade their starting third baseman — they have some internal candidates to replace him, so trading Moustakas is not necessarily a crazy idea — for a handful of prospects. They’ll want help for the big league team in return. Kansas City could probably use another outfielder and another starting pitcher. There’s no way I’d give up Brett Gardner for Moose Tacos and I doubt Zoilo Almonte or Ichiro Suzuki would cut it. As for the pitching, hah. The Yankees have zero to spare. He’s worth a phone call but I’m not sure there’s a good trade fit at this moment.
Mike P. asks: Under the new replay system, let’s say the HQ in New York tells the umpires a batter is safe at first, but the umpires watch the scoreboard replay and think he’s out. Do they have to follow the call from NYC or can they make their own judgment?
It’s all done in the Midtown office, the reviews and the decision. They just relay the call through the headsets. I don’t believe the on-field umpires have the authority to make the call either once it goes to review, that would defeat the purpose.
Daniel asks: You mentioned being sort of iffy on the decision to give Tino Martinez a plaque. Are there any of the other plaques or retired numbers that you disagree with or that at least are strange to you?
Here’s the list of monuments, plaques, and retired numbers. None of them stand out to me as odd but most of those guys played or managed or whatever long before my time. I think there’s a “feel” element to this stuff. You can’t just set some arbitrary WAR threshold and say guys over this number get a plaque, guys over this number get their number retired, so on and so forth. The guy has to feel like he belongs in Monument Park. You know I mean. Tino was awesome for the Yankees for six years, but was he an all-time great Yankee? Not a chance. I think others like Willie Randolph, Bobby Murcer, and Joe Gordon (Hall of Famer!) are more deserving of plaques. That’s just my opinion though. Everyone is welcome to feel differently.
Dan asks: Do you think Peter O’Brien has reached his top level this season? He got a quick promotion. If he keeps hitting like he did in High-A could he make it to AAA this year?
O’Brien was promoted quickly because he spent the second half of last season in High-A as well, it wasn’t just a few weeks early this year. That said, yes I definitely think another promotion may come later this season. Not right away, O’Brien needs some time to catch his breath and get comfortable in Double-A, but in August or so? Sure, bump him up if he’s still raking. Guys like him — drafted as a college senior, ton of power, lots of strikeouts, never walks, still trying to find a position — are the ones teams should promote aggressively because you’re not going to know what you have until he gets to the highest levels of the minors. He’s not someone like, say, Luis Torrens, who is trying to learn to catch high-end velocity and get through the grind of a full season. Give O’Brien like two months in Double-A then see where he’s at.
Sanchez still needs to work on his catching and I mean just about everything. Footwork, receiving, throwing, the whole nine. I think they should let him focus on improving behind the plate because that is where he’s most valuable. Who’s to say McCann won’t be a full-time DH and Murphy won’t be a bust by time Sanchez is ready? We’re still a long way away from worrying how he fits onto the roster and I think the odds of him being traded are much higher than the odds of him wearing pinstripes for more than a few weeks. When he gets to Triple-A and it looks like he might be ready to help the MLB team, that’s when I’d worry about his position. For now, leave him behind the plate and let him learn.
Big mailbag this week. Ten questions, so I tried my best to keep the answers short. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything and everything at anytime.
Daniel asks: I know the whole spiel about him being a smart, patient hitter with postseason experience and success as a clutch hitter. But, are you honestly at all worried about the way Carlos Beltran has looked thus far? This is year one.
I’m not worried yet, but I would be lying if I said Beltran’s age and the potential for a rapid decline wasn’t in the back of my mind. His slump can be traced almost exactly to the day he flipped over the wall in Tampa. He went into that game hitting .327/.368/.673 (176 wRC+) in 57 plate appearances, flipped over the wall, sat out a game after having an MRI on his shoulder and wrist (came back clean), and has hit .172/.229/.266 (33 wRC+) in 70 plate appearances since. Maybe the fall fouled him up and his shoulder isn’t 100% even though there’s no structural damage. At least then we’d have an explanation for the slump. I’m not worried yet but I am monitoring the situation. That’s probably the best way to put it.
Uke asks: Assuming the Yankees let Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano walk after this season and make Beltran the semi-permanent DH, who could take over the RF AB’s? Do Adonis Garcia and Ramon Flores have a role on this team next year?
These are the Yankees, so we can’t rule out a free agent signing as Plan A. This offseason’s crop of free agent outfielders includes Melky Cabrera, Seth Smith, Colby Rasmus, Norichika Aoki, Nelson Cruz, Michael Cuddyer, and Nate Schierholtz, among others. I don’t think re-signing Soriano will be off the table either. Among internal candidates, I would think Zoilo Almonte is first in line for regular playing time. Slade Heathcott and maybe Tyler Austin could be factors if they get healthy, stay healthy, and play well the rest of the season. Flores has been dynamite in Triple-A — it’s interesting he’s spending time at first base again, they might be letting him get re-familiar with the position before a potential big league role later this year — and he’d be in the mix as well. I’m not really buying Garcia as an MLB option, but that’s just my opinion. Because we’re talking about the Yankees, I’d bet on those right field at-bats going to player acquired from outside the organization.
Anthony asks: Do you think that the Yankees would ever demote CC Sabathia to the bullpen if he continues to struggle? Mike Mussina, borderline Hall of Famer, was once demoted to the bullpen in an effort to figure stuff out. If Sabathia continues to pitch poorly, is it crazy to think he could be in the bullpen for a week or two?
I do think they would send Sabathia to the bullpen — Mussina got clobbered in three straight starts (20 runs in 9.2 combined) and was sent to the bullpen for exactly one appearance before rejoining the rotation back in late-August/early-September in 2007 — but I don’t think they’re there yet, not even after last season. For starters, they don’t really have anyone to take his rotation spot right now. They’d have to wait until Michael Pineda returns. Sabathia’s also four years younger than Moose was in 2007 and I think there’s less of a “holy cow he might be done forever” panic. I think we might see him skip a start first, then a stint in the bullpen. Sabathia’s made adjustments and has had stretches when he’s looked pretty damn good this year (usually four or five innings within a game), but nothing seems to be working.
Shep asks: If you had to pick one player on an MLB roster to be a player-manager, now or in the future, who would it be?
Pete Rose was the last player-manager (1984-86 Reds) and I don’t think we’ll ever seen another one again. There’s too much that goes into managing these days between running Spring Training, keeping tabs on workloads, looking up splits, shift data, the whole nine. Doing all of that and preparing to play seems like too much for one person, even with an excellent coaching staff. That said, if I had to pick someone to do it today, I’d probably go with Yadier Molina. That is based on nothing in particular, he just seems like a good candidate. Justin Verlander maybe? A starting pitcher-manager might work best since he’s sitting on the bench doing nothing four out of every five games anyway. I could maybe see the Mets trying it with David Wright. Maybe. Fun to think about.
Kristofer asks: Given both the uncertainty of the 3B position in the years to come and the fact that the Yankees are willing to extend big money to international players still in their 20s, is Jeong Choi a possibility for them this offseason? How does he project?
Choi, 27, was recently dubbed the “David Wright of Korea,” and Jon Heyman reported that he intends to come to MLB as a free agent next year. No posting system nonsense or anything, he’s a true free agent. Choi is hitting only .268/.343/.383 with three homers in 32 games this season, but it’s early and last year he put up a .316/.429/.551 batting line with 28 homers. He’s hit along those lines since 2010. Keith Law was on our podcast recently and said he heard the David Wright comparisons aren’t accurate at all, and that Choi is more of a utility infielder than anything in MLB. That’s just one opinion and it’s pretty much all we have on the guy. I do think the Yankees will check in on him just because he plays a position of need, but I would expect them to target a known quantity (Chase Headley, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, etc.) if they’re going to drop decent money on help at the hot corner.
Joe asks: Which prospect has come from nowhere to turn heads so far this year?
I don’t think the Yankees have had one of those guys this year, someone like 2006 Edwar Ramirez or 2008 Al Aceves, who just showed up in a box score one day and dominated right away. 1B Mike Ford with Low-A Charleston might fit the bill. He was an undrafted free agent out of Princeton and is hitting .327/.400/.475 so far. Maybe RHP Jaron Long, hitting coach Kevin Long’s son? He’s got a 3.33 ERA (2.61 FIP) with a 20/5 K/BB in 24.1 innings for the River Dogs this year. He’ll probably wind up with High-A Tampa later this year after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State.
nycsportzfan asks: Hey Mike, was wondering what kinda heater Tyler Webb has, and who has more promise between Webb and Dietrich Enns?
Enns, the team’s 19th round pick in 2012, had that ridiculous first half with Low-A Charleston last season (0.61 ERA and 1.52 FIP in 44.1 innings) before coming back to Earth in the second half, and he’s a low-90s fastball guy with both a curveball and a changeup. Webb has been solid since being the club’s tenth rounder last year, pitching to a 3.62 ERA (~2.25 FIP) in 49.2 innings. He’s another low-90s guy with a slider, plus he supposedly hides the ball well with his delivery. I’m not sure who has more potential between the two — they are both fringy prospects, to be sure — but I think Webb’s two-pitch mix might help him get to the show as a lefty specialist.
Jack asks: Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, Danny Burawa, Mark Montgomery, Diego Moreno, Branden Pinder. Can you offer your assessment of any of them ever making any significant impact (to the extent that a reliever is able) in the bigs? They all seem to be pretty good prospects (and actually putting up good numbers).
Moreno’s not a prospect. He’ll turn 27 in July and is a pure arm strength guy. The other guys are prospects and you could almost pick names out a hat if you want to rank them. Montgomery’s prospect shine has dimmed following last year’s shoulder trouble, and of course Goody just came back from Tommy John surgery. Burawa has had some non-arm injuries and probably has the nastiest pure stuff of the group — he was pumping 97-98 with a 90 mph slider in camp — though Montgomery’s slider is the best individual pitch, if that makes sense. Rumbelow has mid-90s heat and a good curveball, and so far this year he has 18 strikeouts in nine innings with Low-A Charleston. Pinder’s a fastball/slider pitcher who lags behind the other non-Moreno guys for me. Goody, Burawa, Montgomery, and Rumbelow can definitely be late-inning relievers at the MLB level if everything comes together. They’re not quite what David Robertson was during his prospect days but they’re not far off either.
Drew asks: When was the last time that Derek Jeter batted not in a top 3 lineup spot? Rookie season? Mid-90s?
The last time Jeter started a game in a lineup spot lower than third was July 10th, 1999, when he batted cleanup against the Mets. Here’s the box score. That was a one-game thing. He batted third or higher every other game that season. Before that, you have to go back to the second to last game of the 1997 season, when he batted seventh. Here’s that box score. And finally, the last time Jeter started a game as a nine-hole hitter was the final game of the 1996 season. Here is that box score. My hunch is no, we won’t see Jeter bat lower than third this season.
Liz asks: Given Jeter’s retirement at the end of the season, who do you see stepping in (and up) to fill the Captain’s shoes?
Do you mean the next captain of the team? The Yankees went eight years between Don Mattingly’s retirement and naming Jeter captain, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there was a similar (or even longer) wait this time. I don’t see an obvious captain on the roster right now — what the hell do I know about what goes on in the clubhouse anyway? — and that’s not a knock on the guys on the roster. I just don’t think the Yankees will rush into naming another captain. They’ll want it to be someone who will be around for a while and I’m sure they’re prefer a homegrown player. That’s not a must, just a preference. My bold next captain prediction: John Ryan Murphy. Boom.
Only six questions this week — not including yesterday’s Mark Teixeira question — but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
Mads asks: Might the injury to Michael Pineda be a blessing in disguise? If the Yankees were to make it deep into the playoffs, he would still be available to them, since he hasn’t reached his innings limit. So it might not be so bad that he is out for a couple of weeks.
Maybe. We said the same thing about Bartolo Colon‘s hamstring injury a few years ago, but he came off the DL and wasn’t nearly as effective. He admitted to being apprehensive about cutting it loose after getting hurt. There’s always a chance Pineda will come off the DL and not be the same pitcher, so who knows if he’ll even be worthy of a rotation spot late in the season? His injury is a concern given its proximity to his surgically repaired shoulder too. The Yankees definitely needed to monitor Pineda’s workload this season but now it’s out of their hands for at least a few weeks. It might help keep him fresh deep into September and possibly October, sure, but there’s also a chance it completely derails his season.
Dan asks: Looking back on it now, since we have at least a little bit of a contribution to point to from Pineda, and also the hope of more to come, would you prefer the deal that brought in Pineda over the failed one for Cliff Lee the year before? I mean, Zach McAllister still was sent away in a complete waste of a trade for Austin Kearns, and David Adams is still David Adams. I don’t really know to be honest. Is it still too early to tell?
As the story goes, the Yankees and Mariners had agreed to a trade that would have sent Lee to New York back in July 2010. Jesus Montero, David Adams, and Zach McAllister were the package going to Seattle. However, Adams was still on the mend from his traumatic ankle injury at the time, and the Mariners balked once they reviewed his medicals. They asked for Eduardo Nunez instead and the Yankees weren’t happy they reneged after essentially having a handshake agreement in place. They said no and that was that.
The Yankees had the best record in baseball at the time of the non-trade and they had just won the World Series the year before, so they were still a league superpower with legit championship aspirations. They eventually lost the ALCS to Lee and his new Rangers teammates. Obviously we have no idea how things would have played out had the Yankees landed the southpaw, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say their chances of winning the World Series would have gone from very good to super duper good.
Because of that, I would have rather made that deal than the Pineda deal. It doesn’t have anything to do with Pineda’s shoulder and his recent back issue. The Yankees were on the cusp of a second straight AL pennant without Lee and he could have put them over the top. I’m in favor of adding the impact player when you’re that close to a title. Lee would have only been a rental and Pineda may potential be a good long-term piece for the Yankees, but flags fly forever. Remember: we’re tryin’ to win a ring around here.
Kerwin asks: Can you explain why CC Sabathia has such a distaste for Jackie Bradley Jr.? Is there history between the two?
Hah, I have no idea but it seems mostly harmless and kinda funny. I think it stems from Opening Day 2013, when Bradley went 0-for-1 with two walks against Sabathia. CC appeared to call him a “punk ass motherf**ker” after striking him out in a game later in the season, and since them he’s always seemed to have disdain for Bradley. Last week Sabathia hit him with a pitch — it looked like a breaking ball that got away, so not intentional — and then gave him a mouthful after Bradley stared him down. I don’t know how or why it started, but Sabathia’s beef with Bradley seems like a real thing. For what it’s worth, Bradley is 0-for-8 with those two walks and five strikeouts against CC, so maybe the big lefty is in his head.
New Guy asks: Any updates on Andrew Bailey? I know he’s a David Aardsma type reclamation project, but man. Sure would be nice if he could give the pen a boost later in the year.
The last update I saw on Bailey came way back in the middle of March, when it was reported he was playing catch from 90 feet and hoped to stretch it out to 120 feet within the next week. Hopefully he’s done that by now. Bailey had his shoulder capsule repaired in late-July and it comes with a year-long rehab process. Usually longer, but maybe his rehab will be shorter because he’s only a reliever. The Yankees have maintained that if he does pitch this year, it probably won’t be until September. The structure of his contract — minor league deal with a club option for 2015 — indicates the signing was made with an eye on next year, similar to the Jon Lieber and Aardsma signings a few years ago.
Chris asks: Any thought at a run at Mark Buehrle? He would come cheaper than Cliff Lee. No?
I have to imagine Buehrle would come cheaper, yes. He’s off to a very strong start this year (2.25 ERA and 3.21 FIP), but he’ll revert back to the same ol’ Mark Buehrle once his 2.6 HR/FB% rate returns to its career norms (~10%). His strikeout and walk rates are the same as they always were. Buehrle is owed $18M this season and $19M next season, so he’s not cheap, plus the Blue Jays have made it clear they don’t like trading within the division unless they’re blown away. Maybe that isn’t the case with Buehrle and they’d just be happy to shed his salary. Buehrle isn’t great but he’s pretty reliable and would be an upgrade for the Yankees. I just don’t know if acquiring him from an AL East rival is all that realistic.
Donny asks: After seeing Yangervis Solarte go through his first mini-slump of the season and reading/hearing analysts describe teams pitching him differently with more offspeed stuff, it got me wondering: what does the pitch f/x data look like now compared to the beginning of the season? Does this data support those analyses? Or is this simply a hot bat normalizing to the player Solarte actually is?
Anecdotally, it seemed like Solarte was starting to see more offspeed pitches in the middle of last month, after teams got a look at him and realized they would need something more than a fastball to get him out. After going 12-for-28 (.429) to start the season, Solarte has gone only 12-for-51 (.235) since. The good news is that he is still walking and making contact — 2/2 K/BB in the first eight games, 11/10 K/BB since — so he hasn’t been completely lost at the plate.
Yangervis played 22 games prior to last night — couldn’t wait around for the various PitchFX sites to update overnight, so last night’s game is not included in the table below — and let’s break his season down into two seven game segments and one eight game segment to see how he’s being pitched. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
|All Counts||Solarte Ahead||Pitcher Ahead|
Obligatory reminder that we are talking about very small samples here, so don’t take these numbers to heart. We’re just looked at them for fun.
Anyway, contrary to the theory that he was seeing more offspeed stuff, pitchers have generally thrown Solarte more fastballs as the season has progressed. The pitch type linear weights at FanGraphs show Yangervis has been most effective against curveballs and sliders and least effective against the various fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, sinker, cutter), so I guess it makes sense that pitchers are throwing him fewer breaking balls in recent weeks. Solarte has trouble with the heat, it seems. What did we ever do before we could look this stuff up? Hooray facts.
The mailbag is our Friday staple, but this week we received a question worth its own post.
Jonathan asks: Hey Mike, have you noticed any change in Mark Teixeira‘s stance so far? He’s standing up much more straight with less of a crouch and his hands are starting in a lower position.
I hadn’t noticed anything different until I read Jonathan’s question the other day, so I paid extra attention during Tuesday night’s game against the Mariners. Sure enough, it looks like Teixeira has changed his setup at the plate. To the action GIFs:
That is 2013 on the left and 2014 on the right, both homerun swings (not that the outcome matters much, but just in case) and both at Yankee Stadium so the camera angle is the same. I’m not much when it comes to media editing and all that, but I did my best to sync the two GIFs at the moment his front foot hits the ground.
There are definitely some differences between last year and this year, as Jonathan pointed out. Four that I see, in fact.
- Closed Stance: Teixeira’s front foot was further away from the plate than his back foot last season. He’d been like his entire career. The same is still true this year, but it isn’t nearly as exaggerated.
- More Upright: Look at his knees. He was in a bit more of a crouch last season. This year he’s standing close to straight up.
- Lower Hands: They wind up in the same place once he starts to load his swing, but Teixeira has brought his hands out in front of his body before the pitch is delivered. Before they were almost behind his head.
- Follow-Through: Last year Teixeira still had his big one-handed follow-through. This year it’s a more compact two-handed follow-through.
Do those adjustments sound familiar? They should. You’re a bad fan if they don’t. (Not really.) Those are the same exact adjustments Curtis Granderson made when he revamped his batting stance in August 2010 and turned into one of the game’s premier power hitters almost literally overnight. Here’s a pair of screen caps from a post I wrote about Granderson’s overhaul back in the day:
Granderson’s very first at-bat of the 2010 season is on the left (homer off Josh Beckett!) and an at-bat from August 2010 is on the right. It’s from the series immediately after he went through his crash course with hitting coach Kevin Long, so right after Curtis went through the overhaul.
The camera angle isn’t the same but you can see Granderson closed his stance and dropped his hands, pretty drastically too. Much more than Teixeira. (Lower hands is a classic adjustment players make in an effort to get their bat moving quicker.) He is not standing more upright, though he did replace his one-handed follow-through with a two-handed follow-through. I’m not going to make a GIF of that; I trust you remember Grandy following through with two hands these last few years.
Kevin Long noticed that Teixeira had been letting the bat go early when he hit lefty, protecting his right wrist in the process. Teixeira said he fell into that habit last year when he tried to play through the injury, but until Long picked it up on video earlier in the week, he didn’t realize it was still happening.
“Lefthanded, mentally I have to continue to remember that it’s healthy now and even though it might be a little bit tight, and every now and then it’s a little bit sore, I can still take that full swing,” Teixeira said. “It was unbelievable how early I was letting go of my (left) hand to protect the (right) wrist. Just really a bad mechanical thing.”
Long and Teixeira worked on the adjustment in the cage and during batting practice, but it wasn’t until Thursday’s game against the Pirates in Bradenton that the first baseman truly felt he let loose during his lefthanded at-bats.
“It looked like a whole different animal,” Long said. “The problem is it wasn’t allowing him to drive the ball and he was cutting his swing off. I can’t tell you how positive the Bradenton game was for him and for us.
That’s the kinda thing I read in Spring Training and completely ignore. We hear that sorta stuff everyday and most of it means nothing, both short and long-term. Teixeira has noticeably revamped his stance though, and both he and the hitting coach talked about making adjustments back in camp. The early returns are positive too: .231/.375/.487 (140 wRC+) with three homers in 48 plate appearances this season, including two homers in his last two games. Suddenly that little blurb from March seems more meaningful.
Teixeira is a switch-hitter, but his left-handed swing has been the concern in recent years. I didn’t bother to look to see if he changed his righty stance as well. He never stopped mashing lefties (144 wRC+ from 2011-13), so there was never a reason to worry about him from that side of the plate. Teixeira’s production against righties took a hit though (104 wRC+ from 2011-13), plus a right wrist injury is more worrisome for a lefty hitter. The front arm is the power arm, so if any part of that is compromised, it’s tough to drive the ball. Teixeira has hit those two homers off righty pitchers the last two games, which is encouraging.
Will the adjustments Teixeira made this year be as effective as the ones Granderson made in 2010? Man that would be so cool. It is the same basic stuff, after all. Closed stance, lower hands, two-handed follow-through, etc. That said, no. Probably not. Granderson’s fix was 95th percentile stuff. Turning into a 40+ homer guy with a few mechanical tweaks is damn near the best case scenario. I wouldn’t expect the same results from Teixeira just because they made the same adjustments. They are two different players at two different points of their careers.
Still, can this new stance help Teixeira regain some of his lost production as a left-handed batter? It’s possible and I hope so. There’s really no way of knowing at this point though. Teixeira wasn’t bad in his last full, healthy season (116 wRC+), he just wasn’t as good as he had been during his prime. The easiest way for him to improve his overall production is to improve against righties, and these recent changes could help him do just that. Hopefully this recent power surge is a sign of things to come and an indication Teixeira’s new batting stance is paying real dividends.
Got a dozen questions for you this week, including a bunch about prospects. We’re starting to get an overwhelming amount of questions each week — I had over 50 marked for consideration this week — and I’m trying to answer as many as I can each Friday. Don’t take it personally if yours is not included. Keep sending them in.
Brendan asks: If some of these prospects stay hot (Aaron Judge), when is the earliest we could expect a call up?
Judge is the one guy who I think will get moved up sooner rather than later. The Yankees said they started him with Low-A Charleston because he didn’t play at all after signing last year and they wanted to take it slow, but now that he’s showing no rust and is raking, a quick move up to High-A Tampa is in order. As for other everyone else, I think we’re still a good two months or so away. The season is young and most promotions don’t come until midseason, after each league’s All-Star Game.
Jagielo, no doubt. It would still be Jagielo for me even if Bichette had hit well these last two years. I have less questions about Jagielo’s all-around offensive game as well as his defense. Maybe Bichette will have a higher offensive peak if it all works out, but I think Jagielo projects to be the better all-around player and it really isn’t all that close. Bichette’s been great this year, but three weeks do not erase the last two years.
Upstate Yanks asks: When are we going to see Mark Montgomery come up? Could be a future late-inning guy no?
Probably in the second half and yes. I actually think I ranked him too high in my Preseason Top 30 — Danny Burawa jumped him on the depth chart before getting hurt — and I’m not quite as bullish as I was last year at this time. The slider still misses bats though, and has long as that continues to happen, he’ll project to be a late-inning arm.
Glenn asks: I know he’s only been in the system a short time but it always seems like Caleb Smith is putting up nice numbers. Is there potential in him for the future?
Oh yes, absolutely. Smith might be the best sleeper in the organization right now. The Yankees grabbed him out of Sam Houston State with their 14th round pick last year, gave him $100k, and he has a 1.78 ERA (~2.24 FIP) with a 26.7% strikeout rate in 65.2 pro innings. That was before yesterday’s 13-strikeout performance. The walks are a bit high (9.2%) but Smith is a big lefty (listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.) with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and two legit offspeed pitches (low-80s slider and changeup). Is he the next Randy Johnson? No, but there’s legit MLB potential there.
Dan asks: Peter O’Brien is hitting the cover off the ball, what are the chances he gets called up to AA this year? Since he seems to be completely blocked at C, do you see the Yankees moving his position? Same questions for Gary Sanchez: if his bat can make an impact in the next couple of years, is there any chance they try him out at a different position, because he’s blocked by McCann? Do you see him being promoted to AAA this year?
O’Brien to Double-A will definitely happen at some point. That will be one of the midseason promotions I mentioned earlier. He’ll eventually move off catcher because he’s a pretty bad catcher, not because he’s blocked. O’Brien worked out at third base last year but that didn’t work. They’re giving right field a try early this year. I assume first base is next. As for Gary Sanchez, he should stay behind the plate as long as possible regardless of Brian McCann and whoever else is ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s way more valuable there. Let him develop behind the plate and worry about where he fits into the MLB roster when the time comes. If nothing else, staying behind the plate makes him more attractive to other teams in trades. As for the promotion to Triple-A Scranton, yeah I think that will happen later this summer.
Jack asks: Among the following 4: a) would you rank the most likely (if any) to succeed as a major league regular, and b) has the ability to stick at 3B at the majors: Jagielo, DBJ, Andujar, Austin.
To answer the first question, I’d rank them Jagielo, Tyler Austin, Miguel Andujar, and Bichette. I had Austin over Jagielo in my Preseason Top 30 but they were right next too each other (almost interchangeable) and Austin has dealt with some injury problems in recent weeks. As for sticking at third base, I’d have them Jagielo, Andujar, Austin, and Bichette. I’m not married to the order of the last two and I wouldn’t argue Bichette over Austin. Jagielo and Andujar are legit third baseman. The other guys are maybes at the position who are better off elsewhere.
Paul asks: Too early, I know, but so far the only Yankees worthy of All-Star berths are Masahiro Tanaka and maybe Jacoby Ellsbury, right? Nobody else is standing out to me. Who do you think the fans will vote for? Derek Jeter seems like a good shot considering he’s Jeter and has avoided falling on his face. Anyone else?
I think Jeter will win the fan vote by a mile at shortstop. Who will take votes from him? Jose Reyes? That’s the only other reasonable candidate and he’s hurt all the time. The current AL shortstop landscape is a wasteland. Jeter has hit well this year and I think he’ll go to the All-Star Game. Tanaka and Ellsbury are both worthy right now — Ellsbury’s not a maybe for me, he’s been too good to be on the bubble — and I think Carlos Beltran will get some consideration, though there are always a ton of qualified outfielders. McCann also has a shot, especially if his recent offensive surge is a sign he’s getting back to being himself at the plate. The AL catching crop is weak, though Jason Castro and Matt Wieters are legitimate alternatives.
Matt asks: Could the Yankees look to make a deal with the Cubs for Starlin Castro, being that he had sort of a rocky season last year with the organization, and the presence of their prospect Javier Baez (though he is struggling now) seemingly on the way? Obviously depending on how he performs, what do you think it would take to get a deal done for Castro at the end of the season?
Yes, I think so. Obviously it depends how he rebounds from that disaster last year. Castro isn’t a shortstop — I don’t know what he is, really. Maybe a second baseman? — and he’s a hacker at the plate, but he has some power and speed. He also just turned 24, so he’s still very young with the potential for improvement. The contract is scary if you don’t think he’ll rebound (owed $49M through 2019), but that’s the Cubs’ problem. I’m interested but I want to see what happens this year. There haven’t been many players like Castro traded over the years, so figuring out what it would take to get him is mighty tough. How do you value him? As a future star or just an okay infielder?
New Guy asks: Now that Ivan Nova is out for a while, what would it take to make Jeff Samardzija a Yankee? I’ve always liked him and he is always liked to trade rumors. Are you interested?
I was about a year ago, but Samardzija didn’t improve much (if at all) last season and this year is more of the same. His strikeout rate this year is actually way, way down, but it is still very early. Samardzija strikes me as a classic “whole is less than the sum of the parts” guy, like Edwin Jackson and A.J. Burnett. The stuff says he should be an ace and you keep waiting for him to turn into an ace, but he leaves you waiting and waiting. All while he’ll show enough flashes to keep you interested. Samardzija is affordable ($5.345M in 2014, free agent after 2015) and he’s a fine mid-rotation horse, but he’s already 29 and I’m not sure how much longer you can wait for him to live up to the potential. The Cubs are marketing him as an ace and he just isn’t that.
Josh asks: You just did a piece of the Yanks trying to make a move for Cliff Lee. What do you think about Kyle Kendrick. Younger, and would come a lot cheaper. Hasn’t had a great start, but maybe they could buy low.
I’m not a fan of Kendrick. He’s a solid back of the rotation type who limits walks and gets grounders, but he is surprisingly expensive ($7.675M this year) and I’m not sure an upper-80s sinker/low-80s changeup righty is someone I trust in the AL East. I’d rather give David Phelps a try before giving up prospects for Kendrick. Lee is (still) an elite pitcher and I’m not a fan of cutting corners when it comes to those guys. Play the price and add a true difference maker. No one gets upset over traded prospects in October.
Joe asks: Watching the Yankees so far this season, they are definitely going 1st to 3rd and 2nd to home A LOT more than previous years. Was wondering if you could do a comparison between this year and previous years.
Sure can. These numbers do not include last night’s game (couldn’t wait around for Baseball Reference to update overnight), but here are the team’s first-to-third numbers (small sample size, yadda yadda yadda):
|1st to 3rd Opps.||1st to 3rds||1st to 3rd %||Overall XB%|
Joe is correct, the Yankees have absolutely been going first-to-third more often this season. They’ve been taking the extra-base in general — score from second on a single, score from first on a double, etc. — more often as well. The league average for taking the extra-base is around 40% and the Yankees were a bit below that the last few years. This year they are well above-average.
The reason for the improvement is pretty obvious. Ellsbury, Yangervis Solarte, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts are quicker than the guys they replaced, and both Jeter and Beltran are very smart base-runners who make up for their lack of speed with instincts. I think their first-to-third and overall extra-base rate will come down a bit as the season progresses just because guys will start to get tired and stuff like that, but they should still be quite a bit better than the last few years. Between all the defensive shifts and better base-running, this is a new breed of Yankees baseball.
Got seven questions for you this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week. Don’t be discouraged if I don’t pick your question. Usually it comes down to not having the room/time or simply not knowing the answer.
Chris asks: How about a trade for Chase Utley? Good idea and what might it take?
Yes, please. Forget about his insanely hot start — hitting .462/.517/.769 (247 wRC+) with seven doubles and three homers in 58 plate appearances — the 2011-12 version of Utley (112 wRC+) would do just fine for me. He’s a power hitting left-handed second baseman who draws a lot of walks and plays strong defense. He also has no platoon split and some experience playing first base. Oh, and he’s an elite base-runner even though he doesn’t steal as many bases as he once did. Utley would be a wonderful addition to any team, but especially the Yankees since they have a black hole a second base.
The problem is that Utley signed a two-year, $25M extension with the Phillies last season, taking a discount to remain with the team rather than test the free agent waters. Given the market, I think he could have gotten three or maybe even four guaranteed years as a free agent. I’m sure his hometown Dodgers would have been all over him. Utley has a partial no-trade clause and I have no idea what teams are included, but, more importantly, he’s beloved in Philadelphia and the only way the Phillies would trade him is as part of a total rebuild. I’d have no trouble giving up two top prospects to get him. Gary Sanchez and Manny Banuelos? Plus a third, lesser prospect? Fine by me. Utley would be a legitimate five or six win upgrade for the Yankees this year.
Aaron asks: If the D’Backs continue to struggle would the Yankees be more interested in Aaron Hill or Martin Prado?
Man, the Diamondbacks are just awful this year. The rotation especially. It could be historically bad. Both Hill and Prado would fit the Yankees’ need at second base, though they are different players who wind up providing similar value. Hill (7.3 fWAR from 2012-14) is more of a power hitter and average defender while Prado (7.8 fWAR from 2012-14) is a contact hitter and above-average defender. They are both owed similar money t00, $33M-35M through 2016. Prado can play third and left field, so he has that going for him. Either guy would work for the Yankees, but if I have to pick one, I’ll go with Prado because he does more things well and is two years younger. If either hits the trade market, the Yankees should be interested.
Daniel asks: If the Yankees are truly still not interested in Stephen Drew, is it because they are waiting to see what happens with the extension talks with the Dodgers and Hanley Ramirez? Or are they just trying to ride out what they have?
I don’t think the Yankees are waiting for Hanley and I don’t think they should. Sure, he’s a great player and all that, but it seems likely he will sign a huge extension with the Dodgers rather than test free agency after the season. They Dodgers have said they want to keep him, Ramirez has said he wants to stay, and reportedly the two sides have been talking about a contract. Besides, Hanley wouldn’t help the Yankees at all this year, and even if they did sign Drew, there would be room on the roster for both next season. At this point, I have to think there is something in Drew’s medicals that are scaring teams away. The state of the shortstop position around the league is too terrible for him to still be unemployed because of draft pick compensation.
Tom asks: Although it’s still rather early to even think about it, which free agents in next year’s class do you see the Yankees making a push for?
Hanley would be at the top of that list for pretty obvious reasons. The other big names are Max Scherzer, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval. Since the team already has two huge pitching contracts on the books, I think they will steer clear of Scherzer. Headley seems more likely than Sandoval because the Yankees almost always lean towards the guy who walks and works the count. Plus I think there has to be at some concern Sandoval will eat himself out of the game if you give him $100M or so guaranteed. Here’s the list of free agents for the upcoming offseason. Other potential targets include J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, Aramis Ramirez, Chris Denorfia, Jason Motte, Luke Hochevar, and Luke Gregerson. That’s just my speculation, of course.
David asks: How excited can we get about Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka after these first
two three starts? They have both shown flashes of dominance (especially Big Mike) but to what extent do we need to temper expectations?
Get excited. Very excited. I’m more excited about Tanaka personally only because Pineda’s shoulder is still in the back of the my mind, and guys who have had arm problems tend to continue having arm problems throughout their career. Tanaka has a (much) deeper arsenal and isn’t as reliant on pure velocity as Pineda, which is another thing to consider. The best part is that this isn’t some one or the other hypothetical. Both are actually on the team. If you’re not going to get excited about these two 25-year-olds after these last few weeks, then what the hell is the point of it all?
Jack asks: Barring injury, who among the current five starting pitchers will be the first to be permanently replaced because of poor production? And when that happens who will be given the first shot at taking over the spot?
Let’s be realistic about this: CC Sabathia and Tanaka are not going anywhere because of their contracts. Hiroki Kuroda has earned a very long leash after the last two years and, given his first few starts, I have no reason to think his performance will fall off so much that the team wants to replace him. That leaves Pineda and Nova, and I guess it’s a toss up. Pineda seems more likely to be knocked out of the rotation by injury than poor performance, and Nova has already lost a rotation spot (2011 and 2013) due to poor performance. If I have to choose, I’ll say Nova. But I don’t think any of these guys loose their spots for anything but injury this year.
nycsportzfan asks: Hey Mike, was wondering if Joe Girardi wasn’t are manager and you could have anyone else in his place, who would it be? For me, it’d be Clint Hurdle.
I’m not sure. A big part of the manager’s job happens behind closed doors in the clubhouse, and we don’t know anything about that stuff. In terms of on-field moves, I’ve always felt Padres manager Bud Black does a really good job of putting his players in a position to succeed, either through pinch-hitters or reliever usage or whatever. Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Athletics manager Bob Melvin are both good at that stuff as well. I think you’d have to consider Joe Maddon and Buck Showalter as well. Gun to my head, I’d go with either Black or Melvin. I’ll say Melvin because he has experience managing in the AL.
Got seven questions in this week’s mailbag. A few other really good ones came in too, but I’m holding those back because I need more time to think about them. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, links, comments, whatever.
Paul asks: Am I reading this FanGraphs article correctly? Yankees have gotten +25 strikes (from pitch-framing), a strike is worth .14 runs, 10 runs = 1 win, so the Yankees have gotten about 1/3 WAR from pitch-framing in the first week of the season? Or are these wins different from wins above replacement?
According to the article, the Yankees have gotten 25 extra strikes than expected due to pitch-framing so far this year, the most in baseball. That’s seems … reasonable, I guess? I don’t really know. Brian McCann is an elite pitch-framer and Frankie Cervelli has graded out well in his sporadic playing time over the years, so it stands to reason they would be near the top. That +25 strikes number is just an estimate in that post, remember.
Here is an older list of the run value of events, like singles and homers and sacrifice flies and a bunch of other stuff. It does not include called strikes though, so I’m not sure where that 0.14 runs per called strike number came from. I know Jeff Sullivan though and I trust he got it from somewhere reliable. So anyway, 25 extra strikes at 0.14 runs per strike works out to +3.5 runs total. FanGraphs says 9.386 runs equals one win these days, so the Yankees have “earned” 0.37th of a win through framing alone in 2014. That’s the straight forward math. A win is a win regardless of whether your starting point is replacement level or league average. In this case, the 25 extra strikes was compared to the league average.
There are two issues here, in my opinion. One, pitch-framing analysis still has a long way to go. I think it needs to be adjusted for umpire and for the pitcher, for starters. Maybe even treat it like a pitching stat and consider leverage. Two, that 0.14 runs per called strike number is an average for all situations, but not all called strikes are created equally. Turning a borderline pitch into a strike in a 3-2 count is more valuable than doing the same in a 3-0 count, for example. These win values we’re seeing from pitch-framing seem way too high to me — it’s basically the single most valuable thing in baseball, if you believe the numbers — but for a quick and dirty analysis, the FanGraphs stuff is fine. It’s interesting but I don’t think we can take these at face value yet.
JK5 asks: Do defensive metrics take ‘shifts’ into consideration? There was a play Jonathan Schoop (officially playing 3rd) made on a ball hit by McCann into shallow RF. Just reading the box score play-by-play would make one thing this play was a normal 5-3 putout, which it absolutely wasn’t. So Schoop’s range factor at 3b is helped by a ball hit nowhere near his normal position. So going forward, with increased ‘shifts’, are we gonna see sort of a manufactured rating for 3b (who are most often used as the primary ‘shifted’ fielder)?
Yes and no. Some defensive stats do recognize shifts, others don’t. As far as I know, UZR basically has an on/off switch. If there is no shift, the play is recorded the same way it always is. If the shift is on, the play is not recorded and ignored. DRS does not consider shifts and assumes the defender starts every the play wherever the league usually sets up at that position. That’s why Brett Lawrie had a good +4.5 UZR but an elite +20 DRS in 2012. UZR ignored all the times he was standing in shallow right on the shift while DRS thought he started all those plays at third base. I don’t know how (or if) Total Zone and FRAA handle shifts.
The problems are obvious here. With shifts becoming more prevalent, UZR is reducing its own sample size by ignoring plays with the shift. DRS is assuming third basemen have superman range, which is worse. That only adds to the uncertainty of defensive stats. I think they are best used directionally with a multi-year sample. They can give us an idea of who is good, who is bad, and who is average. The exact values though? I don’t think we can take them seriously. There’s no way you can say Shortstop A is a better defender than Shortstop B because he had a +5.7 UZR/+9 DRS from 2010-13 while the other guy was at +5.3 UZR/+7 DRS. They’re both good. Leave it at that.
Dan asks: If the Yankees even had an average infield in terms of range, do you think Joe would be employing the shift as much? Now that they are flipping the third baseman and Derek Jeter during the shift, if Jeter makes a play when he’s the only one on the left side of the infield would he be the third baseman for purposes of scoring the game? He is the player furthest to the left side of the infield. Finally, how do the advanced stats take shifts into account? Thanks.
Just answered that last part, conveniently. As for the other questions, yes, I absolutely think the Yankees would still be shifting as much if they have rangier infielders. Heck, they might shift more if they had more mobile defenders. Like I said yesterday, the shift is here to stay. You’re playing Super Nintendo while everyone else is on Playstation 4 if you’re not shifting.
As for the position stuff, the defensive stats recognize everyone as whatever position they are playing. Jeter would still be a shortstop in the example Dan gave in his question. That’s why Lawrie’s DRS was so high a few years ago. He was still considered a third baseman while standing in shallow right, not a second baseman.
Ben asks: Seems like early scouting reports on Dante Bichette Jr. suggested he would need to move to the OF at some point in his MiLB career. Seeing as how he is DH’ing so much due to the presence of Eric Jagielo, don’t you think now would be a good time to make the move? They’re not doing him any favors DH’ing him this regularly.
I think the bat is the most important thing for Bichette. He always was and always will be a bat-first prospect, and they have to get him to start hitting more than anything. (He went into last night’s game hitting .235/.458/.353 in six games.) They can stick him in left field or at first base a little later down the line. Right now, the most important thing is for Bichette to get his swing, his timing, his balance, his whatever else on track so he can produce at the plate. He is a huge reclamation project and they need to focus all their time and energy on his bat. It’s the most important thing for him.
Nick asks: If Aaron Judge and Jagielo tear it up do you think the Yankees should keep moving them up or let them finish the year at the level they are at?
Definitely move them up. They are two college hitters who spent three years as starters at major college programs. Those aren’t the guys you hold back. I fully expect Jagielo to end the year with Double-A Trenton and Judge to earn a promotion to at least High-A Tampa at some point. I think it’s possible he’ll go from Low-A Charleston to Tampa to Trenton this summer. I think the Yankees generally move their prospects a little too fast — ever notice how their prospects come to the big leagues still in need of refinement while the Cardinals and Rays call up guys who are so polished? Compare how much time they’ve spent in the minors — but these are two guys who should move up the ladder quick. Especially Jagielo.
Jeff asks: Would the Yankees be better served to have a quicker hook with CC Sabathia on the mound? I understand a lot of the value he has is as an innings eater, but it comes down to which would be better: ~200 league average or slightly below league average innings, or ~170-180 slightly above league average innings.
You know, I’m not sure. Is Sabathia at 90-100 pitches worse than, say, a fresh Dellin Betances or Vidal Nuno? I guess that depends on the day and how Sabathia has fared during those first 90 pitches. There is an obvious benefit to limiting his workload at this point, saving bullets and all that stuff, but an individual game is a different animal than the big picture. Even during his awful 2013 season, Sabathia really wasn’t less effective from pitches 76+ than he was from pitches 1-75. I know he got knocked around in the final inning of his start last week, but that’s one game. If the Yankees had a deeper and higher quality bullpen, I think the answer would be closer to yes. Since they don’t, I’m not sure.
Bill asks: The Yanks had three different players steal a base on Sunday, none of whom was Jacoby Ellsbury. When was the last time the Yanks had steals from four different players in the same game?
It’s actually not that uncommon and I didn’t think it would be. We’ve seen quite a few games in recent years where the Yankees just had the opponent’s battery down pat. They knew the pitcher’s move, knew the catcher’s arm, and were running wild. We saw it last Friday, when they stole four bases off Dustin McGowan in his 2.2 innings of work (and didn’t attempt another steal after he left the game).
Anyway, the Yankees have had at least four different players steal a base in a game 15 times this century, including six times in the last three years. They had six (!) different players steal a base in one game against the Red Sox just last September. Here’s the box score. Pretty clear they knew they could run on Ryan Lavarnway. Here is the list of all 15 games with at least four players stealing a base since 2000 for you to dig through.
Six questions in this week’s mailbag, so you know what that means: six answers. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
I really doubt the Nationals, who have World Series aspirations, would trade on of their ace setup men for a catching prospect who will only be a backup to Jose Lobaton while Ramos is out. If you’re going to shoot that high, I’d ask for Danny Espinosa instead. I’m confident the Yankees can cobble together a quality bullpen from internal options — Clippard or Storen, both of whom the Yankees drafted once upon a time, would obviously help though — but the infield cupboard is bare. You’re ambitious, The Yankees would have to add major sweeter to the pot to build a trade for one of those two righties around Murphy or especially Romine.
Jonathan asks: Dellin Betances has looked great out of the bullpen in ST and in the opener. Is the door closed to him ever competing for a spot in the rotation in the future?
I don’t think he’ll ever start another game in his career. The Yankees stuck it out and tried to make it work with Betances as a starter for a long time, but it never took. He’s had a lot of success in his relatively short time as a reliever and considering that he looked like a lost cause as recently as last April, I’d leave him right where he is and be happy he’s contributing. Betances has said the move to the bullpen helped him because it simplified things, remember. No need to get cute and try to make him a starter again.
Cory asks: Would it surprise you at all if any one of the starting five ended up being the best pitcher of the group this year? Or the worst? There’s a lot to be excited and worried about.
I would be surprised if Hiroki Kuroda ended up being the worst pitcher in the rotation, but that’s about it. The starting staff is very boom or bust in my opinion. It could be excellent, legitimately one of the best in the game, but there’s also a ton that could go wrong and make it one of the worst. The end result will probably be somewhere in the middle. Some things go right, some things go wrong. Such is life.
Anonymous asks: Let’s say the Yankees find some luck and have some of their minor league players come up and have success. Being that they broke their policy and signed Brett Gardner to an extension this year, do you see them signing more of their homegrown players to extensions that seem to be the norm around the league now?
Yes, definitely. Cashman confirmed the “no extensions” policy was a thing of the past after the Gardner deal and it has to be. The game has changed and keeping your own players is incredibly important. Relying on free agency to build your roster year after year won’t work like it did back in the day, when star players were available every winter. Heck, forget star players, even solid regulars are hard to find these days. Whenever the Yankees have another young player worthy of an extension (Ivan Nova? Michael Pineda?), I’m sure they will explore signing him long-term.
Warren asks: Thoughts on the Mike Trout deal? My initial reaction is seriously? How did he give up that much money especially in light of what Miguel Cabrera just got paid?
I thought it was fair for both sides. Maybe he left a couple bucks on the table, but he is still a player under team control with little leverage. He was going to be with the Angels the next four seasons no matter what. Cabrera was much closer to free agency when he signed his (crazy) deal the other week. Sure, Trout could have asked for ten years and $300M, but I’m not sure he would have gotten it. The Angels might not be in a position to make that sort of commitment right now. Trout has his generational long-term security and he still gets to hit free agency at 29. The Halos have the prime years of the best player in the world under contract. Seems pretty great for both sides.
Anonymous asks: (Regarding last week’s mailbag question about Derek Jeter‘s best teammates) I’d like to see this with best single season WAR during this era. Obviously Ryan remains on the bench. Do other positions change?
So I put together that teammate team for Jeter last week using bWAR accumulated during his career as a full-time player, so 1996 through 2013. Instead of using total WAR — I’m using bWAR because it’s easy to search and it’s perfect for a fun, quick-and-dirty exercise like this — we’ll now use single season bWAR. So the best season by a Yankees catcher during Jeter’s career, the best season by a first baseman, so on and so forth. My only playing time criteria is that the player played at least 50% of his games at whatever position in a given season.
Here’s the single-season bWAR team. Click on the links for the full results at each position:
- Catcher: 2003 Jorge Posada (5.9 bWAR)
- First Base: 2002 Jason Giambi (7.1)
- Second Base: 2012 Robinson Cano (8.4)
- Third Base: 2007 Alex Rodriguez (9.4)
- Left Field: 2010 Brett Gardner (7.3)
- Center Field: 2011 Curtis Granderson (5.7)
- Right Field: 1998 Paul O’Neill (5.8)
- Designated Hitter: 2009 Hideki Matsui (2.7)
- Bench: 2012 Chris Stewart (1.0), 2013 Jayson Nix (0.9), 2012 Eric Chavez (1.6), 2001 Shane Spencer (2.1),
- Rotation: 1997 Andy Pettitte (8.4), 2011 CC Sabathia (7.5), 2001 Mike Mussina (7.1), 1997 David Cone (6.8), 2006 Chien-Ming Wang (6.0)
- Bullpen: 1996 Mariano Rivera (5.0), 2011 David Robertson (4.0), 2004 Tom Gordon (4.0), 1997 Mike Stanton (2.8), 2012 Rafael Soriano (2.6), 2009 Phil Hughes (2.6), 2006 Scott Proctor (2.6)
Ryan doesn’t make the bench because Nix simply had more at-bats with the team last year and accumulated more WAR in pinstripes. Nix had 1.2 bWAR during his two years with the team but he played more games at third base (70) than shortstop (66), which is why I took Ryan as my backup shortstop on the other team. Got it? Good.
The shortstop for this team would be 1999 Jeter (8.0 bWAR), which isn’t very surprising. We could have taken 2005 A-Rod at third base instead of 2007 A-Rod since he had 9.4 bWAR both years, but yeah, I’m taking the guy who hit 54 homers, not the chump who only hit 48. Giambi actually had the best DH season (2.8 bWAR in 2006), but I didn’t want to use him at two positions. If I were to use the same player multiple times, there would be two Mussinas in the rotation plus pretty much the entire bullpen would be Mo. I also pick actually bench/part-time players for the bench.
Anyway, that team is pretty stacked. Granderson is the worst regular position player (by bWAR) and he hit .262/.364/.552 (142 OPS+) with 41 homers during that 2011 season. The gap between the top three reliever seasons and everyone else is pretty big — there were several Rivera seasons in the 3.something bWAR range — but it’s not surprising considering how dominant those three were in those years. The gap between 2002 Giambi the next best first baseman (2009 Mark Teixeira) is almost two full wins. That’s nuts. Then again, Giambi was a monster that year. What a team that is.